Yeomanry in the New World

loupaulsen at loupaulsen at
Wed Sep 10 15:47:57 MDT 2003

But... but how accurate a picture is this (of 'yeomanry' in the non-plantation

- Was there really such a labor shortage?  This makes it sound as if you
couldn't find any proletarians for hire the north because every worker would
spread out over the landscape and get free land.  It's a wonder there were any
cities at all.  But in fact not everyone wants to go out on the Arkansas and
be a subsistence farmer.  The growth of the cities went hand-in-hand with the
development of the agricultural hinterland.  By 1800 you had a fair number of
third-generation city-dwellers (not even counting immigrants many of whom were
also multi-generation city-dwellers) who wouldn't have known one end of a plow
from the other.  If labor was so inveterately dear, why was the Panic of 1837
a problem, and why did it take place?

- More generally, you couldn't just run out west with the shirt on your back
and set up as a farmer.  You needed start-up funds from somewhere for tools
and seed and transportation and a rifle and such.

- For that matter was there free land?  This is perhaps written after the
passage of the Homestead Act, but before that you had a whole period of
struggle in which huge tracts of land, having been stolen from the murdered
nations in residence, were put in the hands of companies and individuals for
and then sold off through various levels of profiteer.  "Public property" it
may have been, but the ruling class got to decide, then as now, who got it.

- Again, there is the question of the involvement of the "yeomen" in the
market.  What percent were making their own clothes et al., and what percent
were growing crops for the global market and selling them and purchasing
manufactured clothes not to mention agricultural hardware?  Furthermore,
however many "self-sufficient" farmers there were at a given time, I don't
have the impression that they wanted to STAY that way.  It was a stage in the
farming career.  You could live off your own productions for a while while you
were building up equity and clearing the soil and so on, but your aspiration
was to produce for the market and, if you were successful, you wouldn't have
to spend all your evenings making candles and so on.  You could buy candles
and put them on a manufactured piano in a living room with glass windows.

I don't know what these observations have to do with the Brenner thesis one
way or the other, but I am a bit skeptical of this idea that there was
any "opposition to the establishment of capital" on the part of farmers in the

Lou Paulsen

> The essence
> of a free colony, on the contrary, consists in this — that the bulk of
> the soil is still public property, and every settler on it therefore can
> turn part of it into his private property and individual means of
> production, without hindering the later settlers in the same
> operation.[10] This is the secret both of the prosperity of the colonies
> and of their inveterate vice — opposition to the establishment of
> capital. "Where land is very cheap and all men are free, where every one
> who so pleases can easily obtain a piece of land for himself, not only
> is labor very dear, as respects the laborer's share of the produce, but
> the difficulty is to obtain combined labor at any price." [11]
> As in the colonies the separation of the laborer from the conditions of
> labor and their root, the soil, does not exist, or only sporadically, or
> on too limited a scale, so neither does the separation of agriculture
> from industry exist, not the destruction of the household industry of
> the peasantry. Whence then is to come the internal market for capital?
> "No part of the population of America is exclusively agricultural,
> excepting slaves and their employers who combine capital and labor in
> particular works. Free Americans, who cultivate the soil, follow many
> other occupations. Some portion of the furniture and tools which they
> use is commonly made by themselves. They frequently build their own
> houses, and carry to market, at whatever distance, the produce of their
> own industry. They are spinners and weavers; they make soap and candles,
> as well as, in many cases, shoes and clothes for their own use. In
> America the cultivation of land is often the secondary pursuit of a
> blacksmith, a miller or a shopkeeper." [12] With such queer people as
> these, where is the "field of abstinence" for the capitalists?

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